In the author's note in The Queen of Water, Laura Resau tells the story of walking into María Virginia Farinango's small shop one snowy day. She had met María Virginia once before at the small community college where Laura taught English as a Second Language (ESL) and María Virginia was taking a class with Laura's colleague. Of this meeting she writes:
Because of the weather, [María Virginia's] store was deserted except for the two of us and her toddler son. It felt cozy there, wrapped in musty wool smells. I ended up staying for hours, sitting cross-legged on the floor with her. She told me the story of her life... Throughout her story, the cultural anthropologist in me was riveted, and the writer in me was jumping up and down. I desperately wanted to write this story. María Virginia concluded, 'One of my dreams is to write a book about my life.' She smiled. 'But I want to do it with an experienced author.' I burst out, 'I'd love to do it!'
And so their work together began.
In their partnership, the two women had to create a safe, trusting, and respectful space between them, and they had to find a way to facilitate the actual writing of the story while sharing time, energy, and some intensely personal pieces of information. As I am immensely interested in this process - a collaboration with another person in which the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts - I contacted Laura Resau and asked her about her experience. This is what she said:
This collaboration was very special to me. While I was studying for my masters degree in cultural anthropology, I focused on indigenous women's issues in Latin America. I read tons of journal articles and books on the subject, and, in my own research, I spent time with indigenous Oaxacan women of all ages who shared their life stories with me. For me, the opportunity to do a more in-depth, collaborative project with María Virginia was a dream come true, and it brought me to an entirely new level of understanding of how it feels to be an indigenous woman.
During years of intense interviews and conversations, María Virginia and I went so much deeper than my graduate school research had allowed. We had to thoroughly dissect and analyze hundreds of her life experiences - with special attention to the most painful ones. We both knew that in order to make her story gripping and moving, we had to delve deep into sensitive territory. Our process probably had a lot in common with intensive therapy (and she did feel unexpected therapeutic benefits, actually!) In this way, I came as close as possible to being inside her memories, her thoughts, her feelings, her skin - it was a profoundly emotional experience for me. It's a rare and precious thing when a person trusts you to get this close. María Virginia and I hope our readers experience this in some way too.
Photo credit: Ken Burgess
This article was originally published in May 2011, and has been updated for the
March 2012 paperback release.
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